This notice cancels and replaces Notice 709/1 (November 2011) and incorporates the guidance contained in VAT Information Sheet 12/12.
1. Catering and take-away food
1.1 What is this notice about?
Although the supply of most food and drink of a kind used for human consumption is zero-rated, there are exceptions. Some items are always standard rated and these are explained in Notice 701/14 Food. Other supplies are standard rated because they are made in the course of catering. This notice will help you decide whether or not your supply is one of catering.
This notice has been updated to reflect the changes to the Law that were introduced with effect from 1 October 2012 relating to the definition of premises and supplies of hot take-away food.
1.2 Who should read it?
It is intended for all those who prepare and supply food and drink ready for consumption.
1.3 How do I decide whether my supplies are in the course of catering?
To do this you must ask yourself the following questions in this order.
|Ask yourself||Further information is in section|
|1||Is it within the ordinary meaning of catering?||2|
|2||Is it for on-premises consumption?||3|
|3||Is it hot take-away food?||4|
If the answer is ‘yes’ at any stage your supplies are standard rated supplies in the course of catering. However, if you make the supply at a hospital, school or similar establishment, you must refer to section 2.6.
2.1 What is the ordinary meaning of catering?
Catering in its ordinary meaning includes the supply of prepared food and drink. It is characterised by a supply involving a significant element of service. Obvious examples of supplies in the course of catering include:
- supplies made in restaurants, cafes, canteens and similar establishments (except supplies of cold take-away food)
- third party supplies of catering for events and functions, such as wedding receptions, parties or conferences
- a supply of cooking and/or preparation of food provided to a customer at the customer’s home, for example for a dinner party
- delivery of cooked ready-to-eat food or meals (with or without crockery or cutlery)
Examples of supplies that are NOT in the course of catering:
- retail supplies of cold take-away food
- retail supplies of groceries
- supplies of food that require significant further preparation by the customer (see 2.2.1)
2.2 Catering contracts
Any supply of food and/or drink as part of a contract for catering is standard-rated.
However, a contract that merely entitles a food retailer to occupy a set of premises from which they make their supplies does not automatically determine that a supply is one of catering. In these instances it is important to consider all of the activities being carried out.
2.2.1 Food for customer preparation
If you supply food that your customers must prepare themselves before it can be consumed, this is not a supply in the course of catering. This will apply whether the food is delivered to, or collected by, your customers.
If you make a charge for delivery you should read Notice 700/24 Postage and delivery charges.
For these purposes, ‘preparation’ includes:
- thawing frozen food
- cooking food
- reheating pre-cooked food and
- arranging food on serving plates
2.2.2 Delivered sandwiches and groceries
If you take sandwiches, or other items of food and drink, to buildings in order to sell them, but have no contract or agreement to do so, this is not a supply in the course of catering and you can zero-rate any item that is eligible (see Notice 701/14 Food for further details).
However, if you are supplying the food under a contract, for example to cater for an event, you are making a supply in the course of catering and all your supplies will be standard-rated.
If you make a charge for delivery you should read Notice 700/24 Postage and delivery charges.
2.2.3 Grocery items sold from catering outlets
Provided these items are in the same form as when sold by a grocer or supermarket, and are clearly not intended for on-premises consumption, you do not have to treat them as being made in the course of catering.
Examples of items that are clearly not intended for on premises consumption include packets of tea, packaged coffee granules, powder, beans etc, sugar, loaves of bread and cartons of factory sealed milk.
2.2.4 Packed lunches
Where you provide packed meals as an incidental to an event or a function, such as for coach parties or race meetings, the meals are supplied in the course of catering and should be standard-rated.
If you run a hotel or similar establishment and you supply bed and board (including packed meals) at an inclusive price, you should treat the whole supply as standard-rated. Where however, you supply a packed meal over and above your supply of accommodation and a separate charge is made, then provided it is for consumption off your premises, it can be zero-rated (apart from any items that are always standard-rated - see Notice 701/14 Food).
2.3 Service charges
If you make a service charge, it is standard-rated. But if the customer freely gives a tip above your total charge, no VAT is due on the tip.
2.4 Vending machines
Vending machine supplies follow the same general principles as food and drink supplied from catering outlets. In other words:
- all sales of items that are standard-rated within the Excepted Items (see Notice 701/14) are also standard-rated when supplied from vending machines (for example, sales of beverages or confectionery)
- all supplies of food and drink from vending machines in canteens and restaurant type areas are standard-rated as supplies to be consumed on the premises where they have been supplied. An apportionment will only be allowed if the food seller can produce evidence to show that a proportion of the items of cold food (that would be eligible for zero-rating) are taken-away from the canteen/restaurant premises (see section 3.3)
- all supplies from machines sited in thoroughfares and areas not designated for the consumption of food follow the liability of the product sold (see Notice 701/14 Food)
If the vending machine is on a university campus and is run by the students’ union you will need to read section 5.5.
2.5 Aircraft, ships, trains and other means of transport
If you make a separate supply of catering on board an aircraft, ship, train or other means of transport, it is standard-rated unless it is provided for consumption during a journey from the UK to another EU Member State or on a journey to a country outside the EU.
If you supply passenger transport or cruises you will need to refer to Notice 744A Passenger transport and Notice 709/5 Tour operators’ margin scheme.
2.6 Schools, universities, colleges, etc
Certain supplies of education, training and research are exempt from VAT. Where an educational institution provides exempt education to its own pupils and students, then the supply of catering they make is also exempt. If the supply of education is non-business, as in the case of a local authority school, free school or academy school, the supply of catering will also be non-business, provided it is made at, or below, cost. See Notice 701/30 Education and vocational training for more information.
Whichever treatment is appropriate it applies to anything provided by way of catering. This includes food supplied at mealtimes and break times from the refectory, canteen or other similar outlet but not items purchased from a university campus shop, as they are not provided by way of catering.
Food and drink supplied at or below cost from a tuck shop run by the school itself takes on the same liability as the education.
You cannot normally deduct input tax incurred on costs that relate to exempt supplies. Further information can be found in Notice 706 Partial Exemption.
You must account for VAT on supplies of catering to staff and visitors (except visiting students).
If you are a student union, supplying catering both on behalf, and with the agreement, of the parent institution, you will need to read section 5.5.
2.7 Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc
Care provided in a hospital or other statutorily registered institution is exempt from VAT. This exemption includes the supply by such institutions of prepared food and drink directly to their patients in the course of care.
Supplies of catering to other persons such as staff and visitors are not exempt and you must account for VAT on such sales.
You cannot normally deduct input tax incurred on costs that relate to exempt supplies. Further information can be found in Notice 701/31 Health and care institutions and Notice 706 Partial exemption.
3.1 Why is the concept of ‘premises’ important?
You must always charge VAT at the standard rate if you make a supply of food and drink for consumption on the premises on which it is supplied - see also section 1.
It is, therefore, important to know what ‘premises’ means as there will be times when it is not just the outlet where your business is situated.
3.2 What are ‘premises’?
For the purposes of Group 1 of Schedule 8 of the VAT Act, ‘premises’ are the areas occupied by the retailer and/or, any area set aside for the consumption of food by the food retailers’ customers, whether or not the area may also be used by the customers of other food retailers.
Examples of premises:
- a restaurant (or similar café, canteen type business).The whole restaurant area, and areas with chairs and tables on the pavement, concourse or similar areas adjacent to (i.e. near to or next to) the main premises
- a retail outlet in a shopping centre. The outlet itself and any areas with chairs and tables in designated areas belonging to that outlet or provided for the exclusive use of that outlet and areas with tables and chairs in food courts shared with other food retailers
- a retail outlet in the high street. The outlet itself plus any areas containing chairs and tables outside the establishment provided for use of customers
- a supermarket. Any seating areas within the shop and areas with chairs and tables outside the shop for use of customers
- a stall in a sports stadium, amusement park, exhibition, gallery or similar pay-entry venue. The premises are the stall itself, and any facilities provided adjacent to the stall for the use of customers
- a retail outlet within an office building. The premises are the outlet, and any facilities provided adjacent to the outlet for the use of customers
The definition of premises does not include areas with tables and chairs provided for general use by members of the public who are not customers of one or more food retailer. Examples include:
- benches in shopping centres designed as general seating for customers to rest or wait
- tables and chairs in a public picnic area - for example, picnic benches by a motorway service station where people can eat sandwiches that they have prepared themselves (as well as ones that have been purchased from the service station), and where the area is not regularly cleaned and cleared by the retailer or landlord
- seating areas in airport lounges and railway stations where customers wait for their planes and trains
3.3 Evidence and apportionment
Where you make sales of cold food to be taken away from your premises, but also have on-site facilities where food can be consumed, you will need to apportion your sales of cold food between those consumed on the premises (standard-rated) and those taken-away (zero-rated).
If you are unable to ascertain the correct liability at the point of sale (see 5.6), you must retain satisfactory evidence to support a fair and reasonable apportionment. Records, and the retention of records, are explained in VAT Notice 700 and Notice 700/21 Keeping records and accounts.
4. Hot take-away food and drink
4.1 What is the liability of take-away food and drink?
Hot take-away food that meets certain tests set out below is standard-rated. Cold take-away food and drink is zero-rated, provided it is not of a type that is always standard-rated (such as crisps, sweets, beverages and bottled water). Hot drinks are standard rated. Further information can be found in Notice 701/14 Food.
4.2 What is take-away food and drink?
Take-away food is food sold for consumption off premises. Section 3 explains what we mean by ‘premises’
What are the tests?
The sale of food is standard-rated if
- the food (or any part of it) is hot at the time that it is provided to the customer (“the precondition”) and
- one or more of the following five test is satisfied
- 1: it has been heated for the purposes of enabling it to be consumed hot
- 2: it has been heated to order
- 3: it has been kept hot after being heated
- 4: it is provided to a customer in packaging that retains heat (whether or not the packaging was primarily designed for that purpose) or in any other packaging that is specifically designed for hot food
- 5: it is advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it is supplied hot
4.3 What does ‘hot’ mean?
Under “the precondition” only food that is hot at the time it is provided to the customer is standard rated. Something is hot if it is at a temperature above “the ambient air temperature”. Generally speaking, businesses do not need to specifically check whether the precondition is satisfied as it is clear whether or not the food is hot at the time they provide it to the customer.
Test 1: The food has been heated for the purposes of enabling it to be consumed hot- How does this test work?
Taking into account all the relevant facts and circumstances, it is the purpose of the supplier (and not the customer) in heating the food that is the determining factor. This means that the sale of products that have been cooked specifically to enable consumption whilst still hot (as a result of being freshly prepared, baked, cooked, reheated or kept warm) are standard-rated. This is in contrast to products that are not intended to be eaten while hot and are sold warm simply because they happen to be freshly baked and are in the process of cooling down.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- chips, fish and chips, and similar items
- Chinese, Indian take-away meals, pizzas kebabs etc
- baked potatoes with a hot or cold filling
- hot dogs and hamburgers
- pies, rolls, sausage rolls, pasties and similar items (unless the products do not meet any of the tests and are sold warm simply because they happen to be freshly baked and are in the process of cooling down
- tea, coffee, chocolate and other hot drinks
- hot soup
Test 2: The food has been heated to order - How does this test work?
This test confirms that the sale of food that has been heated to the customer’s order is standard-rated.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- toasted bread, sandwiches, panini, teacakes and similar items
- garlic bread
Test 3: The food has been kept hot after being heated - How does this test work?
This test confirms that food that is kept hot after being cooked, heated or reheated is standard-rated. This includes instances where a supplier of hot take-away food stores the food in an environment which provides, applies or retains heat, or takes other steps to ensure that it remains hot or to slow down the natural cooling process after it has been heated. In practice, this will mainly affect products that are kept warm in heated cabinets (for example under heat lamps), on spits, in hot water or on hot shelves or trays. It will also include any products kept warm in cooling down ovens or other appliances that slow down the rate of cooling.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- freshly baked croissants, pretzels and similar items that are kept hot in a heated cabinet
- hot dogs kept hot in water or on a tray
- hamburgers kept hot on a hot shelf
- doner kebabs kept hot on a spit
- cooked chickens kept in a heated cabinet or on a hot tray
- meat pies kept in cabinets during a controlled cooling process
Test 4: The food is provided to a customer in heat retentive packaging - How does this test work?
This test confirms that food that is provided to a customer in packaging that retains heat (whether or not the packaging was primarily designed for that purpose) or in any other packaging that is specifically designed for hot food is standard-rated. In practice, this will mainly affect products that are sold in specialised packaging, such as foil lined bags and insulated containers including specially designed cardboard boxes. It will not affect products that are sold in ordinary paper bags or similar packaging.
Examples of standard-rated products under this test include:
- naan bread and garlic bread sold in a foil lined bag
- Chinese and Indian takeaway meals sold in foil lined containers
- pizza sold in specially designed cardboard boxes
- cooked chickens that are sold in heat retentive packaging or packaging designed to prevent leakage of hot fluids or grease
Test 5: The food is advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it is supplied hot - How does this test work?
This test confirms that takeaway food that is advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it is supplied hot is standard-rated. This will be established by examining the nature of the advertising or marketing campaign and whether this indicates that the takeaway food in question is sold hot. This could include pictures of the products showing steam rising from them.
'’Advertised or marketed in a way that indicates that it is supplied hot’’ does not include advertised or marketed as ‘‘freshly baked’’.
Examples of products that are standard-rated under this test include:
- Rotisserie chickens
- roasted chestnuts or
which, in each case, are advertised or marketed as ‘‘hot’’.
4.4 What types of hot food are not caught by these tests and remain zero rated?
The new tests ensure that the vast majority of hot takeaway food is standard-rated. The exception is food that is either not hot at the time it is provided to the customer or which is hot at the time it is provided to the customer but does not satisfy any of the above tests. For example, freshly baked bread or bakery products that are incidentally hot at the time that they are sold but which are frequently eaten cold (i.e. when they have cooled down to ambient air temperature).
Businesses selling food that is hot at the time it is provided to the customer will need to work through each test to confirm that none apply before zero-rating their products. This is illustrated in the following examples.
Example 1: A retailer sells a Cornish pasty that has been baked off and left to cool naturally but is still hot at the time that it is provided to a customer (and so the precondition is satisfied). However, the retailer does not intend that the pasty will be consumed hot by the customer (Test 1 is not met); it has not been cooked to order (Test 2 is not met); it has not been kept hot after being cooked (Test 3 is not met); it has been provided to the customer in a standard paper bag (Test 4 is not met) and it is advertised as ‘‘freshly baked’’ (Test 5 is not met). As none of the tests are satisfied, the sale of the pasty is zero-rated.
Example 2: The retailer in example1 decides to keep its pasties under heat lamps to slow the cooling process. In this example, Test 3 is met as the pasties are being kept hot after they have been cooked and the sale of the pasties is standard-rated.
Example 3: The retailer in example 1 decides to advertise its pasties as ‘‘hot’’ rather than ‘‘freshly baked’’. In this example, Test 5 is met and so the sale of the pasties is standard-rated.
Example 4: A retailer bakes batches of fruit pies, tarts, cakes, buns and bread for sale throughout the day. None of these products are baked with the intention of being eaten hot, baked to order, kept hot after being baked (they have been allowed to cool naturally), provided in heat retentive packaging or advertised as ‘‘hot’’. The sales of all of these products are zero-rated as, even where they are hot at the time they are provided to the customer, none of the 5 additional tests are satisfied.
Example 5: A retailer sells hot freshly cooked chickens that have not been heated for the purposes of enabling them to be consumed hot, have not been cooked to order, have not been kept hot after cooking (they have been allowed to cool naturally), are provided to customers in specially designed (foil lined) bags designed to prevent leakage of fluids and grease from the chicken, and are not advertised as ‘‘hot’’. The sale of these hot chickens is standard-rated as Test 4 is met as the chicken is provided to customers in packaging that is specially designed for hot chickens.
Example 6: A retailer sells joints of beef that are kept hot in a cabinet after roasting. The sale of these joints at this point is therefore standard-rated as Test 3 is met. At the end of the day, the retailer removes the joints that have not been sold from the heated cabinet. These are sold cold the next day or are used to make cold takeaway sandwiches. As they are no longer hot at the time that they are provided to the customer the ‘‘precondition’’ ceases to be met and so this sale is zero-rated for VAT purposes.
4.5 What happens if I provide a microwave oven for my customers to use?
If you sell food to be taken away for consumption elsewhere, but you make a microwave oven available for your customers to heat up the food, either before or after the till point, you are making a supply of hot food which must be standard-rated. This is the case whether or not you make a charge for the use of the oven.
4.6 What about hot and cold ingredients supplied as a single item of food?
If you sell hot food with an ingredient that is cold as a single item, the whole supply is standard-rated. This is includes anything in a bun, bap, baguette or other speciality bread with any hot filling such a sausage, reheated cheese and ham, pastrami, etc. Some examples are:
- hot dogs
- bacon sandwiches, chip butties etc
- baked potatoes with a cold filling
- hot steak sandwiches
4.7 What happens with hot and cold food sold at the same time?
If you sell a mixture of standard-rated and zero-rated items for an inclusive price for consumption off the premises, you will have to work out the tax value of each item in order to calculate how much VAT is due on the standard rated item. You can do this on the basis of cost or market values as explained in Notice 700 The VAT Guide.
Examples of mixed supplies of take-away food include:
- burger, chips and a milkshake
- a cup of tea with a non-chocolate coated biscuit
- a meal consisting of hot and cold items or dishes supplied in separate containers
You are normally considered to be making mixed supplies if each of the items in the inclusively priced package can be purchased separately from your menu. This is not the same as the single item of food that happens to have a cold ingredient for which one charge is made as explained in paragraph 4.7.
Ignore any minor items for which you make no charge such as salt, pepper, vinegar, mustard etc.
This applies whether or not the customer uses the condiments on the food.
5. Accounting for VAT
5.1 Catering provided by the owner of the catering facilities
If you run your own catering outlet you are acting as principal. This means that you must account for VAT on any supplies of catering or hot take-away food. You can reclaim any VAT charged to you as input tax, subject to the normal rules.
5.2 Catering provided by a catering contractor acting as principal
If you are a catering contractor running catering facilities on someone else’s premises as a principal, you must account for VAT on:
- any supplies of catering or hot take-away food. You can reclaim any VAT charged to you under the normal rules
- sales of other standard rated items of food
- your fee to the owner of the catering facility
- any subsidy you receive from the owner of the catering facilities. This subsidy is standard-rated and should include payments you receive to balance a profit and loss account
You must account for VAT on your supplies even if the owner of the facilities makes exempt supplies (see paragraphs 2.6).
5.3 Catering provided by a catering contractor acting as agent
Although you run the canteen etc, the food and drink is supplied by the owner of the catering facilities - your principal. The owner must therefore account for VAT on the supplies of catering or hot take-away food (unless they make exempt supplies as in paragraphs 2.6 and 2.7).
The following explains how you should treat invoices, your fee and your profit and loss account as an agent. For more information regarding invoicing in these circumstances see Notice 700 The VAT Guide.
(a) Invoices made out to your principal: if you buy goods or services for your principal and they are invoiced to him, the supplier should send the invoices direct to your principal, who can reclaim the VAT subject to the normal rules. You should show a VAT inclusive amount against the purchase of the item in your profit and loss account.
(b) Invoices made out to you: if you buy goods or services for your principal and they are invoiced to you, you should re-invoice them to your principal and account for VAT on them. If you buy goods or services from unregistered suppliers, you must be aware that you will have to charge VAT where appropriate. You can reclaim the VAT on the invoice subject to the normal rules (see Notice 700 The VAT Guide).
Provided you issue a separate tax invoice for these goods or services when you charge them on to your principal, you should merely record the VAT inclusive amount in your profit and loss account. However, if it is your normal practice to issue a single document to serve as both the tax invoice and the profit and loss account, you must clearly show the dual purpose of the document and keep the tax invoice details separate from the other information.
(c) Your fee for your services to your principal: you must account for VAT on the fee you charge for running the catering facilities. The canteen owner can reclaim the VAT you charge subject to the normal rules.
(d) Profit and loss account: if you provide the canteen owner with a profit and loss account, you must show the VAT inclusive amounts spent on food and received from supplies of meals. If there is a profit that you pay to the canteen owner or you are reimbursed by him for any loss, these amounts are outside the scope of VAT.
5.4 Catering provided by a catering contractor acting as both principal and agent
If you supply food and drink to the owner of the catering facilities and then you prepare and serve it to the users of the canteen etc, on the owner’s behalf, you are acting both as a principal in your own right and as an agent of the owner. You must account for VAT on both:
- your supplies of prepared food and drink to the owner. You can reclaim any VAT invoiced to you subject to the normal rules
- your fee for your services to the owner of the catering facilities for running the canteen
Although under these arrangements you run the canteen, you are supplying the food and drink to the canteen owner and the owner supplies the food and drink to the users of the canteen. The owner must therefore account for VAT on standard-rated supplies of catering and hot take-away food, unless they make exempt supplies as in paragraphs 2.6 and 2.7.
5.5 Catering provided by student unions in universities and other higher education establishments
If you are a student union and you are supplying catering (including hot take-away food) to students both on behalf, and with the agreement, of the parent institution, as a concession you can treat your supplies in the same way as the parent institution itself. This means that you can treat your supplies as exempt when made by unions at universities, and other institutions supplying exempt education, and outside the scope of VAT when supplied at further education and sixth form colleges.
This means that most supplies of food and drink made by the union, where the food is sold for consumption in the course of catering (see sections 2 and 3), will be exempt. For example, food and drink sold from canteens, refectories and other catering outlets (excluding bars), plus food and drink sold from vending machines situated in canteens and similar areas.
However, it does not cover food and drink sold from campus shops, bars, tuck shops, other similar outlets and certain vending machines (see 2.4 above). Further the concession does not cover any other goods or services supplied by the student unions.
5.6 Retail scheme calculations
If you cannot use the point of sale scheme as outlined in Notice 727/3 Retail schemes: How to work the point of sale scheme, you may be eligible to use the catering adaptation detailed in Notice 727 Retail schemes.
5.7 Meals supplied free of charge
If you give your customers or friends free meals or drinks, this is regarded as business entertainment and you will not be entitled to deduct any input tax incurred in the provision of the meal or on the purchase of the drinks.
However, where you provide free sweets or drinks as part of a meal your customer pays for, such as mints or liqueurs with the bill, you may treat this input tax as attributable to the taxable supply of the meal.
If you give meals or drinks in exchange for an identifiable benefit to your business, for example to coach drivers or to group/party organisers in return for bringing their party to your establishment, you can deduct any VAT incurred but you must account for output tax on the cost to you of these supplies.
5.8 Catering for family or employees
If you are the proprietor of a restaurant, café or other catering establishment and you supply yourself or your family with meals, this is not regarded as catering and you need not account for VAT on those meals. However, you must account for tax on the full cost to you of any standard rated items (such as ice cream, sweets and chocolates, crisps, soft and alcoholic drinks - see Notice 701/14 Food) that you take out of your business stock for your own or your families use.
If you provide catering to your employees and they are not required to make any payment, no VAT is due. The same applies if deductions are made from gross wages where this is provided for in a contract of employment.
Similarly, if you install vending machines for your employees to use free of charge and you give them tokens to operate the machine or it is operated without tokens or coins, no VAT is due on the supplies from the machine. But if you give your employees money, or they have to pay for tokens to operate the machines, the supplies are standard rated and you must account for VAT on them.
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